prayer before birth vs/ once upon a time

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The poems Prayer Before Birth by Lois MacNeice and Once Upon a Time by Gabriel Okara are both about society now a days. They mainly talk how things really are and how the world is getting to its apocalypses by small things, that make the world a hell which everyday is getting worse.


Prayer before birth is a delicately balanced monologue in form of verse of an unborn child. The tone is melancholic though the unborn child never talks about how the world was before, he talks about modern living which by the way is not the best way to live life.


In my opinion this “fetus” is talking to someone (though is a monologue) he might be talking to god, and maybe that’s why the title is prayer; because Prayer before birth is a cry for help , because the fetus is ‘afraid’ of getting contaminated with the dirtiness of society.


There’s a certain kind of pattern in every first line of each stanza; every stanza starts with the phrase “I am not yet born” followed by a necessity, a cry. For example in the first line the phrase is “O hear me”, then in the second is “console me” and so on; they are verbs followed by ‘me’. This helps the author to show how desperate is the cry of the unborn child. The author also, not only by these phrases, wants to improve contemporary life by saying what mistakes society commit every day.


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The first line is just the introduction of what I have said above ; a cry for help, this first stanza describes how society really is, he refers to human beings with the following phrase “bloodsucking bat” and “the rat. Therefore the author compare us to animals that symbolise repugnance and dirtiness, as well as death in the case of the bat.


In the second stanza we can observe several alliterations like “with tall walls wall me” or “on black racks rack me”, which help the author to give the poem a certain kind of beauty. I also noticed that when you read this specific stanza you feel as if the verse is running before you, with this I mean that alliteration makes the verse more interesting so you kind of focus more on what the author is saying. We can also observe that in this stanza the fetus talks about liberty, torture, illusion, drugs and killing. He is asking to that someone superior who he is talking to, not to let human race take his liberty “with tall walls wall me”, now a days liberty is not a main issue, because we know that liberty is a right, but may be he is talking about how we have to be repressed under the society, and how we have to follow what authorities do, because if authorities say anything we believe it is right, and the only way we can express with liberty is in the arts, like Louis MacNeice is doing it in poetry. Then he talks about DRUGS, which is a problem which is everywhere now a days, “with strong drugs dope me”. I can also notice that after he talks of such an important issue he goes back to something we don’t pay much attention to illusion “with wise lies lure me”, this means he doesn’t want to be fooled or tricked by society. Then he talks about torture, how he doesn’t want to be tortured, but this torture could be in many senses, but we really don’t know for sure which kind of torture he means because it can be both, physically and psychological, “on black racks rack me”. Then he talks about murder, killing “ in blood-baths roll me”, that mean he doesn’t want to sin by killing.


In the third stanza he talks about what he wants in life which mainly is purity and peace. He starts the line with “provide me” and that is how I can tell he is asking for what he wants. He keeps crying out to be saved and not to lose faith “provide me … a white light in the back of my mind to guide me”.


The fourth stanza he cries out for forgiveness for the sins he shall commit when he is born. He asks for forgiveness for what he is going to do, say, think . Though he doesn’t want to commit any of these sins he knows it’s impossible not to when he is going to be a human being. In my opinion the author wants to show how weak human beings are, and though we don’t want to do something we are too weak to say no.


In the fifth stanza he again asks for help, but now he is kind of distraught and in pain. I feel as if he is drowning in his own thoughts. He want to wipe the pain off before he feels pain. In my opinion this stanza is wonderfully intense because he talks about madness, senselessness, stupidity “the white whales call me to folly”, and he talks about facing things which are not well. He also talks about fatality, about a sentence he has to pay or maybe death “the desert calls me to doom”.


The sixth stanza asks for help again, it’s like a continuation of the first stanza. Here he asks not to let people who think are superior come near him ; guru.


In the seventh stanza he asks for mainly strength, because he knows what it means to be a human, but though he talks of strong things in this particular stanza he kind of gives the sense of innocence, which reminds us that he is an unborn child. In this stanza he is mainly asking to have a natural and peaceful life where he is free from any manipulatory and corrupting power of threats and terrors.


In the last two lines he finishes with the description of the corrupt nature of man, and he makes a moving reflection. He doesn’t want to die but he isn’t too happy of living either in a world of such badness.


The poem “Once Upon a Time” by Gabriel Okara talks about the same theme as prayer before birth , society. The voice isn’t a fetus anymore on the contrary it is a father who’s talking to his child. The tone is again melancholic but the difference between prayer before birth is that in this poem he talks about the future and present and in Prayer Before Birth he talks about the present and the future, so I guess it’s a different kind of melancholy.


Once Upon a Time also talks about the badness of society , and about society’s problems. But he focuses in one problem, not like prayer before birth (which talks about many different problems of society). Here in once upon a time the narrator mainly talks to his son about appearances, and how he tries to pretend to be someone else.


He also talks about the past, about the innocence of childhood “they used to…” and then he contrasts this image of childhood with the image of today, were there isn’t anymore innocence but lies and appearances “they only laugh with their teeth”. Then he talks about coldness which is part of normal life nowadays “while their ice-block-cold eyes search behind my shadow”


He says that there was a time were people felt what they said but now people just want to take everything from you even what you don’t have “while their left hand search my empty pockets”. Throughout the poem he only talks about this issue, how people just talk and have no feelings at all, and mainly about appearances, about an image that everyone has to keep.


Then in the fourth stanza he starts to talk about the present about how he has become one of the other, one of the people who dont feel, he learned to behave, but behave means to say and act in a way which we don’t feel what we say or do.


Then he talks about how he regrets not being the person he was before, he regrets not having his inner child anymore, his innocence. He says he wants to forget all these things and become the child he was before.


And in the last stanza he asks his son to teach him to be a child again, to be the person he once was.


Mainly both poems reflect society, but the authors use different ways to describe community. The first one is a monologue and a prayer, and the second was is something more like a story which he tells to his son.


Once Upon a Time poem does not only express but it explores the feelings of people, Prayer Before Birth doesn’t, it just talks about what the fetus wants and what he doesn’t want.


Both poems are beautiful in different ways, and in some level that have affect me, in a way were I accept that all that they are talking is true but I do not completely agree with how they see society. The poem which I liked the most is Prayer before birth, but I don’t exactly agree with the author. I see humanity as something beautiful with some defects. I see life as a lesson which when we die we should have learned it. I think I like the best prayer before birth because of the style it has. Its melancholy caught my attention. Once Upon a Time, however, focuses more on one theme which isn’t very important for me right now, so I cant be identified by the poem.





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